The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 26

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Multicultural Perspectives: Culturally Relevant Literacy Instruction

Without looking at my picture, please take a couple of seconds and create a visual image of me. My last name will give you very little clues of who I am. My first name, however, will give information that I am not from the Ozarks. I was born in Brazil and moved to the United States in 2010. I am a both a Brazilian and an American citizen. Above all, I am a teacher. In my

perspective, teaching is

part of my identity. My identity goes beyond the food I eat, the holidays I celebrate, and the clothing I wear. Identity is a vital element

in one’s life. One’s identity influences how an individual interprets the world. This interpretation holds the key for one’s personal, academic, and social successes. My question is, “Why do some teachers talk so little about the importance of cultural identity in the classroom?” Concerning identity, Lowery and Sabis-Burns (2007) stated:

Identity is often viewed as a fixed construct rather than as constantly evolving, shifting, and modified by external context and diverse cultures. Multicultural literature can subtly expose children to another “world” as it opens their eyes to new perspectives. (p. 53)

Like adults, children have the need to be recognized as unique individuals who are valued as who they are. Students are not supposed to look and act all the same. So, why do we not purposefully teach children to celebrate their uniqueness through their cultural backgrounds? Student diversity should be seen as an important part of the classroom culture. All children should feel that they and their families are valued in the classroom. When this celebration is absent in the classroom and there is no multicultural literature, the opposite message is sent to students: “If children never see themselves in books, they are learning that they are not important” (Suh & Samuel, 2011, p. 3). Concerning the empowerment that multicultural literature provides students, Al-Hazza (2010) wrote, “When children read literature about their ethnic or cultural group, they engage in accretion of their identity, define who they are. And validate their place in society and their personal growth” (p. 64).

Furthermore, when students are confident about who they are, they will be more likely to accept their differences and perceive these as links that connect and enrich their classroom community. All students should understand that regardless of differences among them and their peers, they are one big family…and that in this family it is good to stand out and be different. All students are unique in their own ways.

Modern education recognizes the importance of acknowledging students’ individual needs and providing differentiated instruction in order to provide to these needs. This practice is based on Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of education and other Constructivist theories. We can find Vygotsky’s theories in the sciences of psychology, linguistics, and education; however, possibly the most important place that we can find his theories in action is in the classroom. America’s classrooms are increasingly becoming more diverse both in culture and in language. This growth has generated a new approach in education: culturally relevant teaching. Because of scholars like Vygotsky, Guy Deutscher, and Bonnie M. Davis, educators can understand that the culture of their students is, in great part, the culture of the school. Many books, programs, and seminars have been developed to assist teachers in providing their students with a high quality, inclusive, and culturally-minded education. So, why should we not provide for student’s sociocultural needs? The use of multicultural literature in the classroom is a tool to provide for students’ need of acceptance, as well as a powerful way to create a classroom culture that embraces every student as a valuable resource in the classroom. Students’ families enrich the